Polluting coal power stations in Britain have been profiting from the woes of the low-carbon French nuclear industry this month, according to analysis of energy generation data for the Guardian.
Tricastin, one of France’s biggest nuclear power stations, was closed by the French regulator in September so that works could be undertaken to address a flood risk.
The plant’s reactors make up four of the 39 currently offline in the French nuclear power industry, which experienced even worse outages last winter due to regulatory safety checks.
The operators of Britain’s eight remaining coal power stations appear to have stepped in to exploit higher French prices, exporting power across the channel as temperatures have plunged. UK coal power generation has declined rapidly in recent years under the carbon tax.
Most of the time, France sends electricity to the UK through 43-mile-long cables between Folkestone and a site near Calais, but in November there have been more hours when power has flowed in the other direction.
On Friday, power through the interconnector was almost entirely flowing at maximum capacity towards France.
“We are now exporting to France through the interconnector which is unusual. Normally we are a net importer from France but yet again towards the end of the year we are exporting,” said Andrew Crossland, who runs MyGridGB, a site that monitors power generation data.
“Essentially this means that France is importing higher carbon electricity than it can produce at home,” he added.
Data compiled by Crossland shows coal power has continued to decline in the UK this year after dramatically falling two-thirds in 2016. There have been 583 coal-free hours in 2017 to date – compared with 210 last year – with coal providing just 6.7% of electricity supply so far.
Analysis by Iain Staffell, lecturer in sustainable energy at Imperial College and author of the Electric Insights report, came to a similar conclusion.
“In short, coal usage has shot up in the last two weeks, both because we are now exporting to France and because demand is growing as it gets colder. We are still using less coal than we did this time last year though,” he said.
Uniper, the German energy company that runs Ratcliffe coal power station in Nottinghamshire, said the higher usage was a response to the situation in France and colder temperatures.
“Over the past few weeks, the French power market has seen relatively higher power prices compared to Britain. One of the impacts of this is that flows on the Britain-France interconnector have seen more of a flow to France than to Britain,” the company said in a statement.
British coal power station owners may also be responding to one of Britain’s biggest nuclear reactors, Sizewell B, being offline for servicing until mid-December.
The UK has pledged to phase out the country’s remaining coal power stations by 2025. This week it led the launch of an alliance of 19 nations, including New Zealand and Mexico, committed to quitting coal as quickly as possible.
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